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It's San Francisco in 1957, and an American masterpiece is put on trial. Howl, the film, recounts this dark moment using three interwoven threads: the tumultuous life events that led a young Allen Ginsberg to find his true voice as an artist, society's reaction (the obscenity trial), and animation that echoes the poem's surreal style. All three coalesce in hybrid that dramatizes the birth of a counterculture. Written by
Sundance Film Festival
"Howl" for Carl Salomon. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...
[continues reading but unheard, credits roll]
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In 1955 Allan Ginsberg sat in a cafe in Berkeley California and wrote a poem. He was asked to perform the poem at a reading and at first refused, but changed his mind after completing a rough draft of Howl. The poem was published and confiscated when it went through customs after being printed in London. A trial of the publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti ensued. What should we make of the poem, and of the trial? The film intertwines the poem with the trial in a most illuminating fashion. It shows us Ginsberg's milieu using a mix of archival footage and enactments. Much of the trial, and the judges final comments make it clear that is indeed the milieu and the language used to express that milieu which make the poem great.
The film has a heavy weight Hollywood cast and is very well dramatized. The use of graphics helps illuminate the poem and keeps us engaged during the readings, particularly given the difficulty of the imagery.
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